Playing for the Moment

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The Bays are one of the most exciting bands in Britain, with an innovative and unique sound. Yet you won't find their music in record shops. Band member Simon Richmond talks to Hannah Dee and Martin Smith.

You have made a choice not to make records. Is that because of a musical ideology?

There are two ways of looking at it, and we kind of like to have it both ways. On the one level it isn't really an ideology. It's what musicians have always done, which is perform and entertain. The recorded music industry is about 100 years old whereas performed music is as old as humanity. The choice to perform and not record is more in tune with what the spirit and essence of making music is all about.

On the other hand there is a bit of an ideology. In the band we have all come from various backgrounds of doing production or session work in the slightly more questionable areas of the music industry, and all got really sick of the marketing and the commodification. Everything to do with the music was tied up in making it a sellable product and less about an emotional or even just an enjoyable experience for the audience.

Can you describe your music? You never perform the same piece of music twice. Every performance is different.

That's just to stop us getting bored, I think.

One of the dangers when you're in a band for a long time is that you have to keep trotting out the same stuff each time. You keep going over and over the same material, and you turn into a kind of automaton. So we make sure it's always as fresh for us as it is for the people hearing it.

We basically just come on stage and we won't have talked about anything, we won't have prepared anything, we never have any themes, any planning meetings, nothing. We just get on and see what happens. So it's surprising and tense for us, and we hope that tension and energy gets across to the audience.

What are your musical influences?

Again they are massively varied. In many ways it's almost more relevant to talk about things like minimal techno DJs and house music, hip hop, drum and bass.

But because it's completely live we also feel we've got connections with things like Can, Kraftwerk, and some of the krautrock stuff. Any musician or sort of music that privileges performance over packaging is something we identify with.

The only problem people might have with this music is that you never leave anything behind that lasts. Many jazz musicians improvise, very similarly to you, but they have also left their body of work for people that takes their music forward.

We're not against people leaving a record trail. We just think that what's relevant and what we do is about experiencing the moment, and doesn't always necessarily bear listening to again. People can judge for themselves if they go to our website.

We've got masses and masses of old gigs, just recorded off the desk, and up there people can download them for free. Sometimes you can listen to them as a great piece of music on their own, or sometimes, if you weren't there, you might be slightly mystified at what people are getting into as it is very much about being in the room at the time.

What's interesting is that for the last seven years we've been putting up our music on the website and giving it away for free and for the last three years we've put up a voluntary payment system and we were amazed that people actually did pay. But suddenly, now the major record companies have sucked the industry dry, there's no revenue to be made just from records any more, sometimes it's interesting to see the larger bands making these announcements about how they're going to be very revolutionary and radical and release their records for nothing online and you can pay what you want. We, and a lot of other people in the underground situation, have done that as a matter of course forever.

Radiohead have announced they've made £7 per album on their new download album, so they haven't lost a penny.

That is good. We've had that in terms of our faith in people - when you don't push it down someone's throat. I'm constantly amazed by how people are prepared to contribute to what we do and help support us.

You're playing at a Cultures of Resistance gig which we've set up. These events don't ever feature just one form of music. How do you feel about pigeonholing and culturally reaching out with music?

Any musician would be an idiot to suggest there was room for any purism or having too many categories.

On the other hand it's not necessarily the wisest thing to try and make a hybrid out of everything. You see this often in the world music circuit where you get these pairings which seemed like an interesting idea down in the pub but then you ask, "Why exactly are you fusing traditional Bangladeshi rhythms with two step? How is this creating good music?"

I think you've got to be open to all kinds of music, but you've got to be quite practical and hard nosed about what actually sounds good.

Cultures of Resistance has a different connotation too, which is not just about music but about political resistance.

When Courtney Pine performed he talked about it in terms of racism. Gilad Atzmon spoke about it very much as opposing the war in Palestine. What do you think about this in terms of your own music. Do you believe it goes beyond listening?

There's nothing that isn't political about it in a sense, as much as we try to resist being categorised as a bit of a soap box thing because of our approach to the industry. It does seem, in modern Britain certainly, that if you try to live your life outside of the channels of consumerism, materialism and corrupt organisation - outside of the fact that Clear Channel own most live venues - anything you do that isn't participating in that is necessarily an act of resistance. But it's tough.

We only exist in as much as we keep gigging, and we only keep gigging if promoters are open minded enough to book us for something that doesn't have a product attached, that doesn't come with a marketing schedule, that people don't know about because it hasn't been on TV. It has to be that people just like the music and want to come and see us.

Can you survive outside of the industry? There have been many attempts, for instance the early jazz improvisers, or Crass who have recently been in the media.

I've got many Crass seven inches from my misguided youth. We're trying and I think the trying is everything. We don't have any aspirations to appear on the Brits or Mobos or anything. All we want to do is play the music that we enjoy and we hope other people enjoy. You would think that was an innocent enough aspiration, yet it does turn into quite a struggle, but it's definitely one we embrace, and we wouldn't really have it any other way. Otherwise we'd be back to doing shitty sessions with dodgy pop groups again.

Some of the bands I mentioned earlier tried not just to openly reject consumerism but also use their music to address certain issues: John Coltrane with Alabama, Charlie Hayden with the civil rights movement, or Crass against Thatcher. I just wonder, did you ever use your music as a comment on society?

Not particularly. There have been occasions on specific gigs where we have, whether it was relevant or not. There was an anti Iraq war gig at a peace rally up in Birmingham a couple of years back, and some of the samples we were firing off had to have certain relevance to that.

But again because of the nature of not planning and not coming with anything prepared, it's tricky to fit to a specific brief like that. Inasmuch as we go on about us trying to carve out an alternative path, we don't ever try to put across an overtly political message in our music. It's still basically club music for people to dance to.

The message is always the same, to stay open to music you might not know about and, like the Musicians Union always says, keep music live, and keep supporting people who are actually performing and making it rather than stuff that comes out of tinny little iPods.


To listen to The Bays go to their website.

The Bays will be performing at the Cultures of Resistance gig alongside Mobo award-winner saxophonist Denys Baptiste on Friday 7 December. For more information phone 020 7819 1190 or go to www.swappeal.org.uk